32 year old Phelena Jean, the South Central, Los Angeles born entrepreneur and founder of luxury hair extensions company Madam Indigo, has spent the last five years traveling to nearly 40 countries across five continents, while simultaneously formulating the idea for the Madam Indigo business model.
Please give us an introduction to yourself and your business
Madam Indigo is a luxury hair extensions retailer that provides, multi-textured hair extensions for women with discerning taste and connects clients with qualified hair extension specialists from all around the world, who can answer their most pressing hair concerns. Our vision is much bigger than your typical luxury hair retailer. We aim to train a sales force of dynamic women throughout Africa and Diaspora, by equipping them with essential entrepreneurial tools and training to become financially empowered.
What inspired you to start a business?
I founded Madam Indigo out of sheer frustration. As an African-American woman who is serious about my hair maintenance routine, after living abroad for five years on four different continents and traveling to nearly forty countries, I had very limited options for places to buy luxury hair extensions and hairstylists who could do my hair to my specifications. While I was living in South Korea, I caught buses, trains and subways for a total of 12 hours round-trip, hoping I didn’t wind up in North Korea, just to find a Nigerian lady who could braid my hair. I experienced my hair falling out in Brazil, because my Portuguese was so minimal my stylist mistakenly put a relaxer in my hair that burned my hair out. Most recently, I was catching 14 hour flights from Dubai to the United States to get my hair extensions properly installed. Unwittingly, these experiences spawned me to form Madam Indigo.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
The greatest challenge is that I have to be educated on EVERY aspect of my business, from logistical matters, understanding profit and loss statements, interpreting contracts, becoming super knowledgeable about the tech side of things, communicating my message and brand effectively to contractors, brand partners and employees, outsourcing responsibilities. It’s a very delicate balancing act every second of the day, BUT it’s so rewarding to track my progress and celebrate victories along the way. Knowing that I’m building a lifestyle brand that will impact the esteem and financial trajectories of women’s lives, wakes me up at 4:30am and motivates me to work 18 and 20 hour days EVERY SINGLE DAY and feel damn good about that.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?
Write down your goals. If you don’t write it down it means nothing. Visualise yourself obtaining those goals and really feel the feelings associated with those victories. Recite daily affirmations. I find “I am” statements to be especially effective. Read books, watch YouTube videos and seek counsel of positive people and business rock-stars who inspire you. As far as managing failures, expect them. It comes with the territory. If you’re not up for the inevitable possibility of failure, then this isn’t the game for you. Being an entrepreneur is about being a risk taker and failure is an essential part of the process. Accept failure for the valuable learning opportunities that they are, learn from them quickly and move on.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
In the beginning I thought that I could do everything by myself and I realise now that I was hustling backwards. I guess it was part arrogance and part naiveté. Not outsourcing pertinent tasks, like hiring an accountant, an attorney or a business adviser in the first few months was quite a costly mistake. So the biggest challenge in that way, was trying to do it all on my own. I heard a businessman say once, “Being a professional is expensive, but being an amateur cost a fortune” and it’s so true.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
Tremendously. I have a business coach that I pay in addition to a few mentors. It’s important for a few reasons. One, being an entrepreneur can be an incredibly lonely experience, because we’re these mad, obsessively driven people who are motivated by a dream that no one else really sees or understands. So my coach and my mentors are both my emotional and professional sounding boards. They keep me accountable, they help me to see a bigger vision and advise me on actionable steps and strategies to scale my business.
What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?
I’m not sure if, I’m the best person to ask this question. I can be quite socially awkward actually. Most of my relationships have come from meeting people quite organically, through my world travels or old friends introducing me to people in their circles. Planned networking events I find to be painfully uncomfortable. I will say though, don’t ask people, “What do you do?” within 2 seconds of meeting them. Try to have an authentic engagement without seeming like you have an agenda straight away.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth? What does the future hold for you?
Scaling your business goes back to planning and writing stuff down. It’s important to have short term and long-term goals. Asking yourself the questions about where you want to be in one month, six months, one year, one years, five years and then developing strategy and taking actionable steps every day to achieve those goals. Also make sure that you’ve hired a competent team that is smarter than you and can fill your deficit areas. I plan to expand my product line to hair care products and cosmetics. I foresee Madam Indigo as a Pan-Africanist Avon of sorts.
To attend ‘The Business of Beauty’ event, which will host a Q&A session with a panel inspirational women of colour on 21st October at Vanilla London, visit www.Madamindigo.com. For more information about how to join the Madam Indigo sales force see https://vimeo.com/183335283